Powerule

Powerule, Vol. 1

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Another exceedingly strong album from the copious early-'90s hip-hop scene that dropped away virtually unnoticed, Powerule's Volume One gave voice to the largely unheard Latino quotient of the late-night, underground New York City community that had always been nearly as essential to the rap world as the African-American community but, up to that point, had rarely made it out of the recording studio. Powerule had dropped a classic underground cut, "Brick in the Wall," in the late '80s, but it wasn't until this 1991 full-length debut that the full extent of their abilities hit wax. It more than delivered on their promise. Most of the album is produced or co-produced by Powerule themselves, and they inject a tough-but-seductive Puerto Rican ambience into the music, in the form of salsafied breaks and samples and shuffle beats and rhythms (especially in songs such as "When the Rhythm Calls," with its unbelievable constantly scratched beat, and "Que Pasa?"). Mixed with the hallucinatory, stop-action, stoned New York vibe of East Coast hip-hop, the album often takes on, to a greater degree than many from its era, the resonance of swaggering nightlife, sweltering summertime block parties, and the cramped, sweaty spaces in which the hip-hop lifestyle has always thrived. From the opening cut, "Back," to the end of the album, Volume One characterizes where hip-hop was born and where its beating heart has always remained: musty basements, rooftops, electric after-hours clubs, and hazy studios, with the ever-present thump of low-end pounding at the gut and the tension of the unknown hanging in the air. The trio move from the mellowness of hanging out ("Back," "Que Pasa?") to kicking rhymes with friends ("Rub Off the Wax," featuring Leaders of the New School, and "Young Stars From Nowhere") to doing a show ("5 Minutes 2 Showtime") to hitting the clubs (the buoyant brag-fest "Gots Ta Get This," co-produced by and featuring Large Professor). And on the molasses-thick, reggae-ish "Premises," MCs Prince Power and E. Ville go beyond simply reflecting the culture, and reflect on it as well.

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